Consumption of American cheese and butter may be slowing. According to the USDA, American cheese consumption grew only 1.6 percent, on an annual basis, during the first four months of this year. Meanwhile, butter consumption dropped 5.7 percent.

A slowdown in the U.S. economy may be partly responsible for this trend. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Gross Domestic Product — the growth rate of the U.S. economy — slowed to 0.7 percent during the second quarter, down 0.6 percentage points from the first quarter of 2001. Higher retail butter and cheese prices also may be responsible for weakening consumption, notes Ken Bailey, agricultural economist at Penn State University. For example, retail cheese prices in major U.S. cities averaged $3.97 per pound during June — up 5.6 percent from the same time last year.